Posted tagged ‘PDX Beats’

PDX Beats: Ah Holly Fam’ly

January 12, 2010

The Ah Holly Fam'ly that plays together in creepy smoke stays together in creepy smoke.

As commonly conceived, there are no more diametrically opposed musical descriptors than “folk” and “classical.”  The former term suggests a populist tradition, one defined by a decentralized mode of gradual, organic growth, whereas the latter connotes formal institutions, rigorous systems of compositional logic  and – especially to self-described folkies – can smack of exclusionary hierarchies and creative dispassion.  Of course, this opposition breaks down under even the most passing scrutiny, as classical composers like Kodaly and Brahms borrowed openly and enthusiastically from their national folk traditions, and folk musicians of all stripes have taken inspiration and structural leads from classical composers and conventions.

Johannes Brahms

Snow White

And then there are bands that demonstrate the fallacy of the classical/folk chasm by effortlessly straddling it with their music.  Bands like Portland octet Ah Holly Fam’ly…well, no, there aren’t really any bands like Ah Holly Fam’ly, whose idiosyncrasies are too genuine to be copied or cribbed.  But they do throw a light on the continuity between folk and classical forms, what with an instrumentation marked by flutes, strings and vocal harmonies that would be just as welcome in chamber concert setting as a certain kind of backyard, campfire-lit sing-along.  Add to that sound echoes of early Disney soundtracks (I can’t hear Ah Holly Fam’ly’s song “EIEIO” without picturing Snow White and the Dwarves whistling it while they work) and the perplexingly gossamer voice of primary songwriter Jeremy Faulkner and you get something like this, a track called “Lucky Peak,”the highpoint (bam!) of their tremendous 2009 album Reservoir which was itself an underheard highlight of the musical year:

You can learn more about Ah Holly Fam’ly (at least part of which – spouses singer/flutist Becky Dawson and the aforemnetioned Jeremy Faulkner – are an actual fam’ly…er, family) and purchase a copy of Reservoir on vinyl or CD at the website of their label Lucky Madison, which is in its own right a Portland institution, having put out notable releases from local bands like Horse Feathers, Alan Singley & Pants Machine, Point Juncture, WA as well as Talkdemonic, the drums-electronics-and-viola project of label head Kevin O’Connor.  But those are other stories for other times…stay tuned, or RSSed, or what-have-you.

PDX Beats: Portland Old-Time Gathering, Jan 13-17

January 5, 2010

(Folklife’s Asst. Director of Programs, Devon Leger, is filling in for Cary Clarke this week on PDX Beats)

It’s no secret that Portland, Oregon is the epicenter of a thriving revival of Southern old-time music in the United States.  Led by pioneering old-time band Foghorn Stringband, Portland has encouraged a homegrown DIY old-time music scene that encompasses frequent square dances, multigenerational old-time bands, and a trailblazing festival in the Portland Old-Time Gathering.

Poster for 2010 Portland Old-Time Gathering

Founded by Michael Ismerio, a young fiddler and square dance caller (check out his website; it’s got lots of tunes to listen to!), the annual gathering started as a bar concert and house party at Michael’s home and has grown to an event that brings over a thousand musicians and dancers from all over the US to Portland’s Norse Hall.  For three days from Friday-Sunday (Wed, Thurs and Mon events are held elsewhere), this large building is filled completely with music and dance.  The two ballrooms sell out quickly, concerts and workshops are packed, and every square inch and corner of the building is filled up with impromptu jam sessions.  In the past few years I’ve been attending this event I’ve jammed in the bathroom, the kitchen, closets, hallways, anywhere I could find place to sit or stand.

As a festival, Portland’s Old-Time Gathering is part of a new generation of folk festivals that emphasize community engagement and participation first and foremost.  Bands come from all over but are chosen by committee and the emphasis of the festival is decidedly independent and DIY.  Seattle enjoyed a similar festival recently with December’s Dare to be Square and other cities are following suit. The second annual Olympia Old-Time Music Festival will be held in February this year, for example.

Square Dancing at the Gathering

We encourage you to take a trip down to Portland to check out this one-of-a-kind event.  It’s a golden opportunity to hear some of today’s best old-time musicians in an informal setting.

Here are some videos from past gatherings to give you a feel for the event.

Lisa Ornstein (fiddle), Michael Ismerio (guitar), Curtis Alsobrook (banjo) at the 2009 Gathering

Hot jam at a Gathering after-party

Bill Martin, caller and webmaster for Bubbaguitar

Keep up with Portland’s trailblazing old-time scene at BUBBAGUITAR, local caller and organizer Bill Martin’s website.

And check out this great documentary (excellent interviews!) on Portland’s square dance scene from Seattle photographer Doug Plummer.